Silence the Lamb: Gauri Lankesh killed, leaders mum, twitterati rejoices

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The World Sikh News pays tributes to fearless journalist Gauri Lankesh who had premonitions of what was in store for her, but who nevertheless stood up, mocking the state and those who toed the line and those who are crawling. WSN will continue to stand up as we live up to our maxim, “because the truth needs to be told.”

The murder of fearless journalist Gauri Lankesh forces us to think about how Indian media has evolved and how the Indian state is coping or actually not coping with a new speedily-developing leaning towards religious, social and political intolerance in public life and an unmonitored malicious, vicious and brutal campaign using social media platforms.

India has had a reasonably vibrant print media since pre-independence times. It parallels the best of journalism in the western world. Like most developing countries, India is a late entrant to multi-channel 24 x 7 electronic news media. It was not until the economic reforms of the early 1990s that the floodgates of private news channels opened up.  With the advent of satellite media, Indian channels faced competition with international giants. It was a healthy change for the discerning masses who were so used to state-controlled and virtually ‘his master’s voice’ All India Radio and Doordarshan.

Today India is home to hundreds of News channels both national and regional vying for public attention and a mad rush to raise their rating points (TRP’s), with an “ethics be damned” approach. As with life and politics, in recent times, a new and disturbing trend of taking sides has emerged -either you are with me or against me. If you are with me, you are a patriotic national and if not, then you are a traitor, an anti-national person.  Today, many of the populace so used to populism and a complete disdain for alternative views, watch news channels based on their political preference and leanings.

Directly and indirectly, politicians and political parties, sensing the power of electronic media have started making huge investments, thus creating a new genre of mouthpieces, not journalists and presenters. The advent of Internet social media platforms -Facebook and Twitter, in particular, have on the one hand increased the reach of news and views, but its mere proliferation and uncontrolled set-up have brought up a new class of fake, malicious and opinionated trolling media making it difficult to separate the chaff from the grain.

The scene on social media after her murder was disturbing, to say the least. Her detractors who are supposed to be ‘followed’ by top BJP leadership had a field day rejoicing her killing and posting vile hate messages against her and those who expressed outrage against her killing. It is no secret that the BJP has a dedicated IT cell led by a supposedly US returned IT expert which keeps on churning fake stories and communally harmful material on a regular basis. Every Hitler has his Goebbels.

In the middle of this cacophony, there are very honourable exceptions. However, as in life, there are a set of bold people, however small in number, who hold a diametrically opposite point of view.  There are some channels and fearless journalists, writers and websites -including start-ups, who still hold the head high and whose quality of reporting is uncompromising.

This set of journalists, writers and thinkers are the new “alternative media” but in the numbers race, they are only on the fringe, almost marginalised as it is a huge struggle for them to bring out the truth and extremely difficult to present the same and even exhaustingly impossible for it to reach the masses.

Gauri Lankesh was part of this fringe. The same fringe that constantly challenges the political and muscle power and speaks for the oppressed and the weak. Gauri was dividing her time between the English media and a weekly Kannada-language tabloid called Gauri Lankesh Patrike started by her late father and veteran journalist, Kannada poet and writer P. Lankesh.  He was outspoken and she had inherited his courage and fearlessness.

The bold and outspoken Gauri was equally critical of the ruling party in the state and the activities of Hindutva forces. She had often voiced her opinion against communal politics and the caste system. A strong advocate for freedom of the press, she was convicted of criminal defamation in a case filed by BJP MP Prahlad Joshi and was currently on bail. She frequently criticized the state’s atrocities on the tribals of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand which earned her a ‘Maoist’ tag from her detractors. Her fearlessness in taking on the majoritarian Hindutva forces was worth reverence. Taking on her fellow journalists she tweeted a few hours before her death “why do I feel some of ‘us’ are fighting between ourselves? We all know our ‘biggest enemy’. Can we all please concentrate on that?” During the last three months, her Kannada tabloid had carried many stories critical of the central government and its leaders particularly the deportation of Rohingya Muslims and the deaths of babies in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.

The US ambassador to India MaryKay Loss Carlson also condemned the killing under the hashtag #PressFreedom. What more insulting can it be for those claiming to be citizens of the world’s largest democracy?

In her murder, she joins Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, the two public thinkers and MM Kalburgi the rationalist who chose to challenge brahminical superstitions and suppression of the lower castes which did not go well with those aspirating for a Hindu Rashtra. All were gunned down for committing the crime of expressing their views which no longer seem to be the fundamental right of an Indian citizen.

The scene on social media after her murder was disturbing, to say the least. Her detractors who are supposed to be ‘followed’ by top BJP leadership had a field day rejoicing her killing and posting vile hate messages against her and those who expressed outrage against her killing. It is no secret that the BJP has a dedicated IT cell led by a supposedly US returned IT expert which keeps on churning fake stories and communally harmful material on a regular basis. Every Hitler has his Goebbels.

While the government has asked Twitter and Facebook to crackdown on Kashmiri activists, these paid social media users run scot free even after posting abusive and hate-filled material against individuals and religious groups.

Whoever may be the actual hand that shot her outside her house, the message is loud and clear that those who fight hate and bigotry, those who stand for dissent are not going to have it easy in the new emerging Intolerant India. The British tools of Unlawful Activities and sedition continue to be used with impunity by the rulers of this new India.

The question now is will the killing of Gauri have an effect on fearlessness journalism and the courage to speak against the powers that be? 14 years ago renowned Author, writer and columnist Khushwant Singh in his book The End of India wrote “Every fascist regime needs communities and groups it can demonize in order to thrive. A movement built on hate can only sustain itself by continually creating fear and strife.” Yet we can find solace in the fact that in the past too many journalists and writers have been threatened and intimidated but it failed to deter them from discharging their professional duties. Also encouraging was the media coverage of Gauri Lankesh murder in the international media including New York Times, BBC, Washington Post and Guardian. The US ambassador to India MaryKay Loss Carlson also condemned the killing under the hashtag #PressFreedom. What more insulting can it be for those claiming to be citizens of the world’s largest democracy?

It is the moral duty of our journalists and writers to stand up against such naked fascism else this famous saying of Martin Niemoller, will become a reality for us all:

First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me

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